Khmer & Indigenous Cacao Farmers

As cacao farmers in Cambodia we are operating with other Khmer cacao farmers but also with members of different tribal communities, like the Krung and the Bunong. For the website bartalks.net I wrote an article about these experiences and also about our plans with indigenous groups in Malaysia.

If you are interested, you can check out the article on the website of Bartalks.net

Working together with members of Asian tribes is a different ball game; mostly exciting but once in a while frustrating.

Stefan Struik

Why did Holland erase my name?

In mid 2014, I bought farmland in Cambodia. My consultant strongly advised me to put the hard title of the land on my personal name, and not use a side contract with a Cambodian who would be majority owner of the land. The latter had resulted in many fraud cases in which especially many Koreans and Japanese lost the land they assumed to had bought. In Cambodia it is only possible for a Khmer citizen to own more than 49% of a land title. My consultant created a special arrangement in which I could quickly and easily get a Khmer citizenship. But there was one condition: this citizenship had to come with a Khmer name, granted by the King of Cambodia.

Little did I realize that the Netherlands changed the law on dual nationality. As from January 2014 it was no longer allowed for Dutch citizens to apply for a second nationality. And here comes the weird part: the new law described that in case a Dutch citizen would voluntarily take on a second citizenship, he or she would AUTOMATICALLY lose the Dutch nationality.

A year or so later, I learned about this new law, but because I only used my Khmer passport to register farmland, I thought that it would be harmless. Little did I know that my new Vietnamese relationship and his niece cooked up several plans to steal as much money from me, as they could. And also nobody realized that the niece would encourage my back-then boyfriend to commit horrific acts in as well Vietnam as Cambodia, which she could record, and use to blackmail him.

On December 5, 2016 I learned through Facebook of one of these video’s, filmed four months prior on my farm at a time that I was not present, in which they tortured a young kid of one of our farm workers. But I was not the only one, who got the shock of my life. With me, millions of others worldwide heard about this, including Dutch authorities. And while I got involved in a political game in which I was imprisoned and convicted for not reporting a crime to the police within 24 hours, the Dutch authorities notified me, that they would not assist me in any way, because I had taken up the Khmer citizenship and therefore I automatically had lost the Dutch nationality.

After spending eight very long months in a prison room of 30 m2 with 46 other prisoners, I was finally released. And through the Dutch embassy in Thailand I got two months later a visum to travel to Holland.

Arriving in Holland, I got a temporary residence permit, but because I had entered on my only – Khmer – passport with a Khmer name, I could only register myself on my new name: Heng Ly. The friendly staff at the town hall in Rotterdam brought me the sour news: my old name of Stefan Struik would be removed from all the records and replaced by the name Heng Ly.

I applied again for a Dutch citizenship and because for Holland an act of not reporting a four months old crime to the police in 24 hours was not seen as a crime, I was granted the Dutch nationality again. And there I was in early February 2020 at the town hall in Rotterdam: receiving the new Dutch nationality as ‘Heng Ly, born in 1963 in Rotterdam’. A beautiful example of falsification of a person’s history.

From 2020 on, I am walking around with a Dutch passport with the name ‘Heng Ly’. No wonder that so many custom officers and other officials are always questioning this Chinese/ Khmer name belonging to a person with a very Dutch face.

But there is light at the end of this dark tunnel: at the end of 2022 the Dutch court will hear me and hopefully will help me to get back my original name of birth: Stefan Struik. Because the last thing I want, is to be buried under a tombstone that says: “Here rests Heng Ly, formerly known as Stefan Struik.”

Stefan Struik with his Malaysian friend Simon in Milan, Italy, 2022

One tomato for one cacao?

We can be grateful to Ferdinando de Medici for giving the Florentine Codex its more than well-deserved place because it provides a wealth of knowledge not only about Aztec thought and the realm of the gods but also about more ‘earthly’ things such as animals, stones, colors, precious metals and, yes … cacao. And here, it becomes very interesting for the cacao-minded: the value of cacao beans is also noted in the Codex. 

From $2.60 in 2021 to $80 for a kilo cacao in 2031? See the link for the full article I wrote for the highly informative Bartalks web site on cacao and coffee: “One tomato for one cacao bean, a history of the value of cacao”

Prison Passport (NL editie)

Deze schokkende autobiografie vertelt het verhaal van een Nederlander die acht maanden opgesloten zat in een van de meest afgelegen en primitieve gevangenissen van Azië in de hooglanden van Cambodja, omdat zijn Vietnamese ex-geliefde een afschuwelijke misdaad had gepleegd op een klein jongetje waar in de hele wereld met afschuw op was gereageerd. De Cambodjaanse regering nam de Nederlander zijn vrijheid af; de Nederlandse regering ontnam hem zijn nationaliteit, zijn naam en zijn identiteit. Deze ervaringen deden hem realiseren hoe belangrijk een eigen identiteit en een eigen naam eigenlijk zijn en ook hoe waardevol of waardeloos een paspoort kan zijn. In het boek stelt de auteur ook enkele verontrustende vraagstukken aan de orde die cruciaal kunnen zijn voor een toekomst met een wereldpaspoort.

Het boek is nu als Nederlandstalig e-book te koop bij BraveNewBooks, bij bol.com, bij Bruna, en bij Libris. Heb je interesse in een paperback versie, dan kan je die hier op bol.com bestellen.

Cacao From Cambodia?

It was the Year of the Lord 1586 and Portuguese capuchin monk António da Madalena was the first Westerner to admire the largest temple complex in the world, Angkor Wat, with his own eyes.

Today, millions of people a year visit Angkor Wat. But with the exception of this ‘world wonder’ is no one interested in Cambodia. The country with the rich cultural Khmer tradition continues to lose ground. No longer literally, to neighboring countries, as in all centuries after the fall of the huge Khmer empire in 1431, but economically and culturally. There are also practically no more products that put Cambodia on the international map. But as of 2014, an agricultural product has emerged that previously never grew in Cambodia: cacao. Is the ‘brown gold’ able to turn the tables for Cambodia?

Read all about it in the article on bartalks.net: does cocoa have a chance in Cambodia?

Thai Cacao Mafia

There has been a true revolution when it comes to when it comes to the rise of bean-to-bar chocolate makers in Thailand. Bangkok and Chiang Mai are the epicentres of this beautiful development. But what’s happening with cacao farm production in Thailand? Why did cacao production go in a downward spiral during the past twenty years? This is the story of creative bean-to-bar makers, of courageous initiatives to revive Thai cacao farming, and of cunning businessmen fooling farmers.

Read all about it in the article on bartalks.net: the Thai cacao struggle

The Cacao Link Between Suriname, Curacao, Ceylon and Malaysia

Considering the arrival of experimental cacao in Ceylon in the first half of the 18th century, and taking into account the start of commercial cacao production in Suriname by the Dutch in the same period, it seems plausible that Dutch traders brought the cacao tree not from Venezuela but from some of the first Dutch cacao plantations in Suriname.

Read all about the underexposed cacao link between Suriname (through Curacao to Ceylon) and Malaysia in the article on bartalks.net: the missing Asia cacao link

The Dutch Cacao Route To Asia

On 2 June 1603, Dutch admiral Joris van Spilbergen stood before King Vimaladharmasuriya I of Kandy (Ceylon, Sri lanka). Van Spilbergen had just arrived after a 12-months journey that brought him from Veere, in the Netherlands to Kandy. Apparently, the admiral made a good impression, because the two immediately developed a close friendship.

The King even became curious about the Dutch language of his new friend and decided to learn it. Little did they know that their friendship would start one of the two routes through which cacao would reach Asia which I will call: the Dutch cacao route.

Read all about it in the article on bartalks.net: who introduced cacao to Asia?

Live to 100! The Secret Formula from a Remote Archipelago

In 1944, Benjamin H. Kean was a 32-year-old army surgeon stationed in the Panama Canal Zone by the US army. Later he would play a disputed role in the Iran hostage crisis as physician to the exiled Shah. But in WWII he was an unknown doctor who, one quiet day decided to visit the islands of the San Blas archipelago, roughly 25 kilometres from the Panama coast.

There he met a group of Kuna Indians, who had lived in a very isolated situation for the past 500 years. He discovered that these Kuna Indians didn’t develop high blood pressure, even as they aged. He also learned that every member of this Indian tribe drank at least three to four cups of cacao per day, but he didn’t make the link. 

Read all about the definitive breakthrough of cocoa as one of the healthiest food sources in the world in the article on kamkavfarm.com : Live to 100! The Secret Formula from a Remote Archipelago Will Surprise You

Who Were The Cacao Pioneers of Africa?

It was a hot day in the year 1822 on the tiny Portuguese island São Tomé, 200 kilometers from mainland West Africa. Governor João Baptista de Silva e Lagos was personally present in the harbour to witness a merchant ship arrive from Brazil. The ship carried a valuable cargo, ordered by King João VI of Portugal: cacao seedlings who were brought in from Bahía in Brazil’s north-east.

Read all about the introduction of cacao to Africa in the article on kamkavfarm.com: Pioneers of West-African Cacao